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Rucho summons dark skies over Charlotte Airport
By John Friedrich
‘Turbulence’ describes Robert “Bob” Rucho’s path in and out of the State Senate and now to his audacious plan to remove the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CTL) from his own city’s control. First elected to the chamber in 1996, the Mecklenburg dentist declined to run in an expensive primary after being “double-bunked” against a more wealthy fellow Republican Robert Pittenger following the 2003 redistricting led by then-State Senator Brad Miller.
In a twist of fate Rucho found himself appointed to the State Senate by the county Republican leadership in 2008 after Pittenger resigned his seat to focus on an unsuccessful campaign against Walter Dalton for Lt. Governor. (Pittenger recused himself from crucial votes after accusations of a conflict of interest regarding the placement of a parkway across land he had earlier bought speculatively. He is now part of the state’s congressional delegation from the 9th district.)
With a vendetta worthy of a franchise action movie, Rucho went on to be craftsman of the new districting maps, specifically targeting Miller’s 13th Congressional district as a form of payback. Having vanquished his earthbound foes, the senator is now aiming for the skies. The CTL airport is the largest between Reagan (DC) and Hartsfield (GA) and a crucial hub for U.S. Air. While there have been no disasters or accusations of systemic and gross incompetence in the city-led administration of the airport, legislative Republicans have been moving toward stripping the city of its regulatory powers and substituting a regional appointed commission.
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory opposes the creation of such a commission, but in a procedural move Rucho and Senator Ruth Samuelson, also of Mecklenburg, were able to short-circuit Governor McCrory by labeling this controversial bill a “local act.” Such acts apply to laws which can affect 15 or fewer counties and thus in a quirk are not subject to gubernatorial veto. The city’s current mayor, Dan Clodfelter, has argued that such local acts do not apply to the state’s seaports or airports, two categories of infrastructure which interface with commerce and travelers both interstate and international.
The natural administrative advantages of such a commission are hard to see, other than as a means of job creation for a half-dozen conservative activists and politicians from Mecklenburg’s neighboring counties. This arrangement also serves as a further dilution of democratic accountability for the airport’s management. There are rumors that Rucho’s allies may stand to gain from land sales to the airport authority, though these are not clearly substantiated. What is an open matter of principle is the NCGOP’s push to strip cities (often Democratic-leaning) from control over their leading assets, such as Asheville’s water supply. The CTL commission plan is in stalemate due to FAA confusion and lawsuits.
Rucho’s 39th district is not treated as competitive, with only sporadic Democratic challengers putting themselves forward. For example, the 39th has a population of African Americans at a proportion less than a third of the statewide average and stretches to the South Carolina border across the city’s southeastern suburbs. However in 2008, a strong year for Democrats, spending on this seat quadrupled from previous years, and at a level larger than 2010 and 2012 spending, suggesting there was some perception of weakness from Republican donors regarding this district under the right circumstances. Senator Jeff Jackson from the neighboring 37th is an energetic young Democrat with a district which is only 55 percent white, well below the state average of 72 percent. Were these districts more blended, there would be two competitive seats.
Until such redistricting, Rucho may be safe to tweet such grammatically poor things as “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined.” This was in December of 2013, months after Chief Justice Roberts’ vote upholding the ACA and thus not even defensible as a frustrated tweet ‘in the heat of the moment.’